Hugh Latimer

Debonair light comedy actor


Hugh Alexander Forbes Latimer, actor and silversmith: born Haslemere, Surrey 12 May 1913; married 1940 Sheila Murray Gairns (two daughters); died London 12 June 2006.

With his tall, slim build, polished technique and a matinée-idol charm, Hugh Latimer personified the old-style light comedy actor. He thrived in the era before John Osborne's Jimmy Porter had erupted onto the stage in Look Back in Anger in 1956 to change forever the face of British theatre.

In those far-off, innocent days, when many a play would begin with a pert maid answering the telephone and a vista of painted, sunlit lawn lay beyond the French windows, the debonair Latimer was in his natural habitat. Later in his career, he was to take over the leading roles in two famous Shaftesbury Avenue hits, in 1967 following Kenneth More in the romantic comedy The Secretary Bird and in 1968 succeeding Rex Harrison in The Lionel Touch.

Thirty years earlier he had made his first West End appearance as Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice at the St James's Theatre. The year before, in 1936, he had made his very first stage appearance at the Brixton Theatre in the steamy, tropical melodrama White Cargo.

A master of the throwaway line, Latimer repudiated the idea that he was throwing anything away, claiming that an actor needed to have worked hard developing the skill to drive a point home with a feather-light touch. Deeply committed to his craft, he was also diligent in pursuit of the opportunities it offered, particularly in try-outs when promising new plays could be tested in the provinces. He appeared in over 30 plays which were first tried out in this way, several of which transferred to the West End.

He achieved a considerable success in Jane Steps Out (1947) at the Embassy Theatre, A Lady Mislaid (1950) at the St Martin's Theatre, in which he played a gentlemanly policeman, and in Birthday Honours (1953) at the Criterion Theatre, when he appeared as a suave Harley Street physician.

The year before, in Albert, RN, another try-out successfully transferred to the Saville Theatre, he claimed to have been given the smallest part ever written but even with only five minutes on the stage as Schoolie Brown, he managed to steal most of the notices.

In 1956 he appeared with Denis Price in the romantic comedy To My Love at the Fortune Theatre and in 1959 he played opposite Rachel Roberts in a comedy thriller, A Clean Kill, at the Criterion Theatre under the direction of Alistair Sim.

Alongside his busy stage career he performed frequently on radio, playing Bob Dale in Mrs Dale's Diary. On television he appeared in a number of popular 1950s drama series including Dixon of Dock Green, Robin Hood, Warship and Hunter's Walk. After making his film début in 1946 in Corridor of Mirrors, he took the title role in The Adventures of PC49 (1949) and also appeared in Stranger at the Door (1951), The Last Man to Hang (1956) and The Gentle Trap (1960).

A direct descendant of Bishop Hugh Latimer, burnt at the stake for heresy in 1555, Hugh Alexander Forbes Latimer, the eldest of three children, was the son of a colonial teak merchant who exported timber from Burma and India, where Hugh spent the early years of his boyhood. After his mother's second marriage, he was sent to Oundle School where he developed a remarkable proficiency for carpentry and metal-work, an aptitude which was to stand him in good stead in later life.

On going up to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he studied Architecture and English, he became an enthusiastic member of the Footlights Club and there discovered that he had a natural talent for making people laugh. After leaving Cambridge in 1935, he briefly attended the Central School of Dramatic Art in London, but when told that he would never make an actor Hugh Latimer promptly quit and almost immediately landed a job with the Nottingham Repertory Theatre, winning a year later his first London stage role in White Cargo.

In 1940 Latimer was acting as compere of an early wartime revue at the Criterion Theatre, Come Out of Your Shell, but by the end of the year he had left the theatre to join the Royal Artillery and was commissioned in the 34th AA Regiment. After being posted as captain for a tour of duty in the Middle East, he was diverted to Ceylon where he was put in charge of troops' welfare.

Later, sent to Bombay to help organise entertainment for the forces, he reported to another old actor friend, Major Jack Hawkins, who apologised for being in bed on Latimer's arrival. Together they put on a production of Terence Rattigan's comedy of service life in wartime London, While the Sun Shines, with a cast of actors recruited from the British and American forces. It was playing in Calcutta as the war ended.

Returning to London, Latimer discovered that his actress wife Sheila had acquired a pretty Regency cottage overlooking Hampstead Heath. Soon he had returned to the stage and to the kind of role which had earned him his pre-war reputation.

One somewhat exotic venture at this time was his role as Lord Phillpot in The Gainsborough Girls, Cecil Beaton's one and only venture as a dramatist. Unfortunately, the dazzling glamour of the first-night audience at the Royal in Brighton in July 1951 rather eclipsed the more subdued traffic on the stage.

By the early Seventies, Latimer had decided he wanted to allow himself more freedom and the obsession for making things which had begun in his public school workshop had now taken hold again. After a short refresher course at the Sir John Cass College (now incorporated into London Metropolitan University), Latimer turned his hand to the creation of splendid objects in precious metals.

He had always constructed elaborate and ingenious toys for his two daughters, Carole and Clare, such as a radio-controlled plastic decoy duck which played havoc among the real ducks on Hampstead Heath and a working model of a windmill driven by a clockwork mouse. But now in his workshop he began working with great skill in silver and gold and quickly found a ready market for his finely wrought silver goblets, exotic jewellery and decorative tableware. A Japanese bank placed an order for 100 tall-stemmed silver wine goblets. Another special commission was for a silver butter dish in the shape of a buttercup for the late Lord Lichfield.

With his easy affability and nonchalant manner Latimer was a popular figure among his theatrical colleagues and he retained his youthful vivacity long into old age.

Derek Granger

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister

Met Police confirm it was a 'minor disturbance' and no-one was arrested

News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Concerns raised phenomenon is threatening resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

News
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf plays a World War II soldier in forthcoming drama Fury
films

Eccentric Fury star, 28, reveals he is 'not a really confident actor'

Life and Style
Time and Oak have developed a product that allows drinkers to customise the flavour and improve the quality of cheaper whiskey
food + drink

Sport
football

Peter Biaksangzuala died from his injuries in hospital on Sunday

Life and Style
The final 12 acts will be facing Simon Cowell, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Mel B and Louis Walsh tonight
fashion

The X Factor's judges colourful outfit was mocked by Simon Cowell

News
news

Footage shot by a passerby shows moment an ill man was carried out of his burning home

News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Senior Change Engineer (Network, Cisco, Juniper) £30k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Senior Change Engineer (Windows, Linux, VMWare) - London £35k

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past